OMT WebOrganization and Management Theory Division of the Academy of Management
The grandfather of an MBA student of mine once said “If you don’t stand up for something, you will fall down for anything.” Mayer Zald stood up for tall causes all through his life – and was an ardent believer in the redemptive role of protest in our organizational society.
Mayer’s accomplishments are known to one and all and it would be superfluous to recount them here. Instead, I’d like to touch on what he meant to me – as I was a fortunate beneficiary of the gifts of his mentorship, friendship and abundant affection.
My first recollection of Mayer was at a conference on Generative Organizational Theory organized by Lance Sandelands and Brian Pentland at Michigan in the early 1990s. I recall Mayer as being keenly interested in every paper being presented – staying with us for dinner, and enjoying the banter, and even dropping us off at the hotel. I was struck by his voracious curiosity and his ability to connect ideas from one realm to another – be it the grammar of organizing or the grammar of contention.
I got to know Mayer much better when I was visiting Michigan in 1997. Michigan and ICOS are magical ‘free spaces’ that serve as wonderful incubators of ideas and Mayer embodied this spirit. Soon, we would meet regularly over lunch – and his favorite sport – was to mention an article or a book and ask me if I had read them. There would be a delighted burst of laughter when he found I had not read one or the other piece. Once I quipped “Mayer, these are all works before 1940 – written by people who are dead” but he insisted that I read Gustav le Bon – these conversations helped turn an incipient interest in collective behavior and social movements into a research agenda.
Soon, he went to Arizona, and enlisted Cal Morrill in a number of projects that absorbed all of us – he was both the deft project manager and mentor for Cal and I. He and his wife Joan were great hosts. Mayer also inspired an ASQ special issue that brought together Jerry Davis, Cal, Sarah Soule and I along with a number of writers and reviewers – and it was fitting that he wrote a lovely postscript to the special issue. He was an ever-generous reader of papers – you sent him a paper and he responded with comments and advice to read a connected paper or two within a couple of days.
Mayer always asked more questions than made statements. Sometimes, the questions were endearingly mischievous. I once sent him a book titled “Shantaram” – a novel written by an escaped Australian convict Gregory David Robbins about the roller coaster life of an immigrant in the underworld of Mumbai. The book, over 900 pages long, covers the protagonist’s journey from Australia to Afghanistan. In one memorable scene, the author describes the standing babas of Mumbai – individuals who stand on one foot with the other suspended above the floor – and do so for decades by dint of their yogic powers reinforced by liberal inhalations of hashish. Mayer read through the entire book within a week and sent me a one line question “Are the standing babas still there in Mumbai”?
I will miss his contagious positive energy – he always left a person with more energy about his or her work, and his mischief.
Huggy RaoStanford UniversityAugust 21, 2012
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